Barb Fishel knew she was adopted, but was shocked to learn she’d been abandoned at birth. What she discovered next was even more of a jolt.

By Fay Jacobs  |  Photograph by Carolyn Watson
From the Holiday 2017 issue

FeatureBarbFishel A Late-Blooming  Family Tree - Delaware Beach Life

Barb Fishel grew up having no idea of the circumstances of her birth or adoption. “You were given to us by the court,” her loving adoptive parents, Vernon and Geneva Fishel, had said. Barb’s heritage and ethnicity were a complete mystery.

“I always thought I might be Swedish — you know, blond hair, blue eyes and all,” says Barb, a full-time Rehoboth-area resident since 2006. “The first photo of me that exists is at 18 months old.”

She grew up in Oxford, Pa., the only child of her carpenter father and her mom, who worked as a clerk. When she was 10, the small family moved, to Newark, Del. At age 19, while Barb was getting her degree in education at the University of Delaware, her mother passed away; her father died only three years later.

There were a few family cousins, but Barb pretty much made her way in the world by herself, first as a physical education teacher, then in computer sales. Her work took her from Delaware to New Jersey, then Massachusetts, and ultimately to Annapolis, Md.

In 1998, when she turned 50, Barb became more curious about her heritage since she had no family medical history to share with her physicians. But the only clues were her birth certificate, dated June 1, 1948, an adoption decree from Media, Pa., near Philadelphia, and a yellowed slip of paper attached to the decree, with the scribbled words “found June 25.”

To try to unravel the mystery, Barb headed to the Department of Orphans, now called Orphans’ Court, in Media. At the time, and in fact until just this month, November 2017, all adoption records there were sealed. When Barb arrived at the office and asked about her paperwork, an “extremely rude” clerk coldly explained that all adoption records were indeed in the building — but they could not be shared with anyone. It was an infuriating and unsatisfying exchange and a gloomy dead end.

Exasperated and determined to dig further, Barb marched over to the Delaware County Times newspaper office and asked to see its birth records and articles from June 1948. A clerk took her down to the dingy basement microfiche room and Barb started scrolling through reels of public records and newspaper clippings. She stopped short when she saw an article about an hours-old baby found in a paper sack in a park in Chester, Pa. On June 25.

 

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